Ginger Nuts of Horror
My Life In Horror
Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 25 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
This Monster That We Call The Earth Is Bleeding
It starts with blackness. How could it not? Hovering in the darkness, a skull. It’s huge, jaw unhinged in an endless scream. Flames and smoke curl up behind it, and streaming from the mouth of the skull, an army of the damned. Klansmen. Hitler. Ruby, shooting Oswald. Dictators. Tyrants. Despots. Killers.
It’s 1989. I am still eleven.
A choir, discordant, then a single picking guitar, minor chords. Then a second. Bass drum now, beating a tattoo. The guitars swirl, one low, one high, building, and then a sudden drum roll...
And we’re off.
The pace is a gallop, guitars chugging with that BC Rich snarl, like chainsaws. Vocals growling, high. Spinning tales of lost souls, brother murdering brother, drowning in blood, the cycle of violence become a spiral.
Welcome to Heretic (the lost child). Opening track of the magnum opus of LA cock-turned-shock rockers (fans of The Crimson Idol – you’re wrong, and shut up) W.A.S.P. – The Headless Children.
W.A.S.P. are a metal band from LA. The bastard child of KISS, Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper, their primary strength is lead singer/songwriter Blackie Lawless – a 6 foot snarling long-haired freak with an incredible rock voice and distinctive songwriter style, heavy on the powerful, fast paced riffage. For three albums, they had written songs about getting laid, mainly, and built up a decent following on the back of live shows featuring home-made smoke machines, circular saw blade codpieces, and Blackie pretending to drink pig’s blood from a human skull at the climax of their shows.
If that all sounds like good clean dirty dumb fun, I’m telling it about right. For all the snarl, WASP are about as threatening as a horny poodle. But following the live album release, something happens for Blackie. Something changes. And when he heads back to the studio, his head is buzzing with ideas that have nothing to do with his libido and everything to do with the state of the world. That always colossal riff machine is about to get hooked up to an altogether darker, more powerful engine...
There’s an urgency to the playing, a frantic energy, but it’s coupled with real skill – they’ve been together for eight years now and they’re tight. The riffs are deceptive – they are basic, but there’s these little flourishes here and there that show real skill. For the first time, Blackie’s trademark vocal attack sounds haunted, desperate. When the outro begins and he sings
‘Don’t turn out the lights/’cause there’s demons in the night/and they prey on the fears of us all...’
it sounds like he really means it. It’s the soundtrack to a horror apocalypse – zombie, plague, nuclear holocaust, pick your poison. It’s an anthem for the end of the world, not a celebration but a funeral dirge, played at 80 BPM, raging against the dying of the light. The outro rolls on and on, relentless, building and building, furiously played.
That’s song one.
Then it’s ‘The Real Me.’ Tough one this. I mean, listened to in isolation, without context, it’s awesome – the lyric textbook alienated youth, a killer bass line twinned with a brilliant broken guitar riff. The middle 8 with just vox, bass and lyric is particularly fine, and Blackie’s voice is on fire throughout. When you’re eleven, it’s near perfect. But then you grow up and realise The Who wrote it 20 odd years before WASP recorded it, and that... takes the shine off a bit. But it’s one hell of a performance, and they make it sound like a WASP song, and as someone who as an adult has covered a few songs, I can tell you that’s actually no mean feat.
Anyway, enough of that. The choir has started up, and the main event is about to begin.
The Headless Children is an immense track. The intro guitars playing a slower, menacing riff while all the sounds of a horror movie swirl around your headphones, demonic laughter, howling feedback, and indistinguishable animal sounds, before it all fades to a hammer horror keyboard reverb – and then the chorus riff, no vocal, just giving us a taste...
“Father come save us from this madness we’re under/ God of creation are you blind?”.
This is the moment. This song. This is the point where my young brain grasped the idea that horror didn’t always have to be something that you were scared of. It could be something that you owned. That you created. That you could take all the darkest parts of your terrified imagination and vomit them back out in some powerful ,creative act. That not only was it okay to be scared, that it was mandatory, because the world was a scary, dark place, and to ignore that or diminish it was to deny reality, take the path of cowardice. No, the only true path, the only valid one was to stare into the darkness, catalogue it as best you could, wrestle with it, understand what you could of it. And by doing so render some kind of dark celebration. The understanding that fury in response to the world was valid, even necessary, as a precondition to self expression of any meaningful kind.
And look, cards on the table, can this song, on this album, really bare the weight of all that? Isn’t it just a question of time plus place plus brain chemistry times the first stirrings of puberty minus any sense of perspective? Well, yes, sure. And no, not at all. I mean, all of these essays will carry some of that, right? I was a child, and my brain was wired fundamentally differently from how it is now. But on the other hand, I’ve been listening to the album while writing this, and this track... still has it, kids. Yeah, the choir synth at the start carbon dates it, but the lyrics, vocal style and riffs, whilst clearly a product of time and place, still don’t sound quite like anything I’ve heard before or since, and that counts for something.
More though, much more importantly, it still speaks to my gut, still bypasses my brain and heads down direct to my neck muscles, and sets off the nod.
Next up is ‘Thunderhead’, which is probably the most unintentionally hilarious song about drug addiction that’s ever been written. Back to back with The Headless Children, jarring doesn’t even cut it – it’s like watching Return of the Living Dead after Night of the Living Dead, only if they’d been made by the same person who wanted you to take them both seriously. The piano and choir combo suddenly sounds pretentious, especially when the strings start in, and it’s not helped by the fact that the (admittedly pretty damn fine) riff that clicks in really has little or nothing to do musically with what’s proceeded. And yes, it’s a great riff, and the drumming is immense, but the Hey! Hey Hey! In the chorus just about finishes it off. We’ve gone from horror movie soundtrack so good you don’t need the actual movie to Spinal Tap does ‘Just Say No’.
This is where the bridge to the past breaks. I know I loved this as a kid, but I can’t get back there now.
“Killer! You scream and you bleed! Thriller! You spread your disease!”
Screams Blackie as we head to the solo, and yeah, no, I’m no kind of expert wordsmith, but I’m pretty sure on alien planets there’s creatures with eleven eyes and one ear that picked that up on that via subspace radio and winced before skipping the track. Watch out, indeed.
Still, it’s worth noting the horror movie motif continues as Thunderhead communicates directly with the Demon H. It’s a bad horror movie, but it’s recognisably genre.
“Thunderhead, will you die for me?” “Yes, Master!”
The solo is too long, and not terribly well played, though the reconnect to the chorus riff is deftly handled.
And that’s it for side A. Just four tracks. That felt massive to me as well, as a kid. The idea that songs could be epic, with heft and scope. That music could be a journey. I may no longer be able to love ‘Thunderhead’, but I am still to this day a sucker for a good ten minute epic. I suspect you could trace the DNA of that particular taste strain back to this album.
Side B is never as good. It’s a damn near immutable rule of rock, and not one that WASP are able to subvert. We open with ‘Mean Man’, the nearest this album comes to a ‘traditional’ WASP song
“Cause I’m a mean/ motherfucking man/I gotta Scream/ ‘Cause that’s what I am/All the w—a—a—y/ A- All the w—a—a—y!"
Written about guitarist Chris ‘the brain cell’ Holmes, it’s about what you’d expect, complete with a borderline atrocious guitar solo, but a perfectly serviceable verse/chorus riff.
Far better is to follow, with ‘The Neutron Bomber’, Blackie’s paranoid condemnation of ‘Neutron Ronnie’ ( then president Ronald Regan) as the harbinger of the apocalypse. And sure, it’s easy to laugh now, in cosy old 2014, with the benefit of knowing the wall came down and the good guys won* but it’s worth stressing that in 1987, mutually assured destruction seemed as likely an outcome as any. Also, it’s a killer track: The gallop is back, or at least a canter, and from the staccato concussive opening, we’re into a great open chord building riff. Recasting Regan as a deranged pyromaniac is inspired
“Oh, ‘till he dies he’ll be burning inside”,
sampled police sirens mix with controlled feedback, and again, the feeling that you’re hearing a soundtrack to a movie that never got released is damn near inescapable. It’s a genuinely useful historical artefact for anyone who wants to try and make a case about historical inevitability (as in, listen to this and shut up) and, like Allen Moore’s Watchmen, actually succeeds in making you feel fear, even as you know this particular world-ending threat is now no more than a ghost of a ghost. Captivating, and although my heart belongs to the title track, ‘objectively’ (heh) there’s every chance this is actually the best track on the album, if not the best song WASP ever wrote.
From there is the obligatory ‘minor scale acoustic guitar instrumental to prove we can actually play’ (it’s an ‘80’s thing) and then it’s time for the single (which made top 20 in the UK, because I saw the video on Top Of The Pops) – ‘Forever Free’.
And look, okay, Blackie’s voice sounds incredible, but dear lord it’s a veritable smorgasbord of hack rock cliché, from theme to lyric to tune to production to... gah, everything. Biker first person lead? Check. Girlfriend who probably should have obeyed the helmet laws? Check. Overdubbed repeat lyrics at the end of phrases that go ‘oh, no mooooore, no-owohwhwoh’? Check. Middle 16 into minor key for guitar solo? Oh yes. Back out into repeated chorus which drops to ‘oooooooooo’ sung harmony as the guitar loops through the same pattern and the toms roll for a million years per end of phrase? Take an astute guess. Fade out finish? Please let’s.
‘Maneater’ is far better fare, albeit hard to listen to post Rob Halford’s coming out without a bit of a shameful snigger at the double entendre. This is where remembering being eleven helps a ton actually, because shorn of that association, the phrase gets to be as intended, chilling, horrific. And it’s another classic pounding WASP riff, with a particularly fine set of stabs before a cold stop into the chorus. Whilst this re-listen has confirmed a lot of my worst suspicions about the quality of Mr Holmes guitar solos, I had forgotten just what a monstrous riff machine WASP were, just how skilled they were at belting out heavier-than-hell-but-still-melodic tunes. And there’s no way as a kid I could possibly have appreciated just what a rare talent Blackie has as as a rock vocalist – the fact that he’s not named in the same breath as obvious all-time greats as Brian Johnson or Eddie Vedder (yeah, I went there) is a genuine travesty. It may not be to your taste, but it’s a towering performance. Shove your juvenile homoerotic snark in the closet for a song (DYSWIDT?) and try and hear this one as intended – it will reward the effort.
And we close out with ‘Rebel In The F.D.G.’ (Fucking Decadent Generation, so that’s saved you a trip to Wikipedia – don’t thank me, just buy one of my books) . And there’s two separate things to talk about here. The easy part is the song itself. Blackie’s screamed opening line is superb, and it’s a great little dirty walk-down riff, just a shade too heavy for Dr. Feelgood era Crue. Some of the guitar breaks are short enough that even Chris Holmes can’t fuck them up. Okay, the post guitar solo spoken section once more practically carbon dates the song, especially twinned with the hugely overproduced bass drum echo, but I’m not sure being a product of your times can be considered a hanging offence. It’s also amusing to me that the final line of that section gets totally swallowed by the rising guitars, eager to get back to the business of bashing out that chorus.
The second thing to note, and to my mind the more interesting thing, is the total incoherence of the lyric. As I’ve noted above, WASP were one of the exemplars of the cock rock scene, essentially boiling down Kiss and Alice Cooper to the dumbest component parts lyrically and the heaviest inclinations musically. Which, yes, that’s a niche you can carve, and who am I to etc. But there’s something, oh, let’s be insanely generous and say incongruous, about the band whose lead off EP was the 100% non-ironically titled ‘Fuck like a Beast’ (yes, you read that right) claiming to be in rebellion against the decadence of their own generation. As Bart Simpson might say ‘Wha’fuck, man?’ (well, he might if I wrote him). Sure, Blackie is on record at the time as being (aside from alcohol) drug free, and I’m sure in the Hollywood rock scene of ’87 that was at the very least eccentric, but if you’re indulging in systematic sexual debauchery as part of a subculture with a well earned reputation for excess in this arena, claiming rebellion seems confused at best and self delusional at worst. Given what Blackie did next (and let’s be honest, based on some of the more out-there moments on this, by far his most coherent and intelligent record) I know where I’d place my chips.
Regardless and very much in spite of that, The Headless Children definitely represents an underrated gem of a little loved and only faintly remembered era and scene – the moment when ‘Blackie Clueless’, as some of the wits of contemporary music criticism had it, dug deep enough to come out with some genuinely disturbed material. If part of what we learned was that those depths were not always very deep (cock rocker in ‘not super-engaged with the world’ shocker!) let’s not overlook the greater lesson – that on his day, Blackie could scale significant heights of lyric writing, with subject matter that went beyond how much he liked having a dick and using it, and in doing so created an album that while still undeniably flawed, stands as both a significant achievement in its own right, and as a signpost for a lyrical approach in metal that was at that point both far less travelled, and infinitely more interesting, than what almost everyone else was doing.
Also, you know, it’s a horror album. The soundtrack to what in 1987 looked like the most plausible cause of the apocalypse. It captured that mood so well that is still has the ability to reach it’s rotting arms out across the decades in-between, and chill you just a little with it’s touch. It’s a ghost of a ghost, but it still has the power to haunt.
No small achievement.
*For a given value of ‘good guys’ and ‘won’.
KP - 28/06/14
Kit Power lives in Milton Keynes, England, and insists he’s fine with that. His short fiction has been published by Burnt Offering Books and MonkeyKettle Books, and his debut e-novella ‘The Loving Husband and the Faithful Wife’ (plus short story ‘The Debt’) was published by Black Beacon Books in January 2014. E-novella ‘Lifeline’, a thematic sequel to those tales, will be released on August 16th, and his debut novel (currently called ‘The God Issue’, but that may well change) is due out in Autumn 2014. To stay up to date, check out his Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/Kit-Power/e/B00K6J438K/ . Those of you who enjoy near-professional levels of prevarication are invited to peruse his blog at
He is also the lead singer and chief lyricist for legendary rock band The Disciples Of Gonzo, who have thus far managed to avoid world-conquering fame and fortune, though it’s clearly only a matter of time. They lurk online at
The Loving Husband and the Faithful Wife
A cutesy tale of romance and domestic bliss? Step inside this suburban home to find out what happens when the couple decide to have an extension added. What could possibly go wrong?
Meet Del. Meet Tel. Two men from the wrong side of the tracks. Del stayed straight. Tel, well, he didn’t. Now Del is in debt up to his eyeballs, facing ruin. Only Tel can help. Will he though? And if he does, can Del afford the terms?
Two dark tales of fear, paranoia, and good intentions, set in situations where grey bleeds into black, and where there are no easy answers. Kit Power invites you to see the world through the eyes of the faces that pass you every day. Discover how it feels to really know someone.
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